This, That and Other Stuff

Bob Neuman

Are young people becoming detached?

Is there a decline in the art of verbal communication? Is it being replaced by our punching cell phone buttons and over using computers? To an alert observer, it would appear so. Perhaps partial blame goes to some English teachers who give grammar and usage a casual swipe because it can be difficult and boring to teach and not exciting to the students. In addition a big change has occurred in the last fifty years in the field of electronics of every description. This revolution has caused an altering way of life for all.

Those who have been around a long time have witnessed other changes. Not too many years ago, the radio and telephone were about it. No television, computers, digital cameras, blackberries, twitters, tweets, texts, VCRs, DVDs GPS’, etc., existed.

“Change” (a popular word currently) can be good or bad but we all experience it in various ways. Some is involuntary and unwelcome. Try holding your graduation picture next to your face, look into the mirror and brace yourself. Or we may think we can still jog or play tennis as we did in high school or lift a piano…until we attempt them. These physical alterations have been subtle, for which we can be grateful. Not many would care to arise one morning and learn these alterations happened overnight.

But change may produce side effects. It seems now that people must be in constant electronic contact with others. Most of us have listened to a diner at the next table barking into his cell and making us a party to a conversation we’d prefer not to hear.

Hang around a group of teen agers as they tweet and text to some distant responder and we may begin to feel they consider us invisible or non-existent. And use extra care on the interstates. Even though dangerous, and in some states, illegal, texting is practiced by too many drivers.

Another question arises. Why is it necessary or even desirable to know, for example, what others are doing at all times? Aren’t we processing far too much unnecessary information and overloading our brains with our gadgets? By contrast, studies reveal that many teenagers seldom read newspapers or books. Would they if these electronic invaders did not exist?

Robert Benchley (1889-1945), a writer and humorist for The New Yorker magazine, expressed his conclusion that central heating caused the breakup of the American family. His theory was the pot belly stove made it necessary for family members to crowd around it for survival, warmth and conversation. Central heat enabled them wander off to separate rooms instead. If alive today, would he include hours before a computer or time used punching a cell phone also? Both actions exclude direct contact with people. Excessive use results in solitary isolation, mental withdrawal and detachment from the real world.

We seem to live in a time where instant knowledge has become an obsession. Constant use of certain electronic communication equipment insulates the operator from the immediate surroundings. Perhaps it is time to reduce the dependence on these devices and actually see and speak face to face with others instead. If we try it, we may like it.